I'm a frequent poster on Facebook. I probably average one or two posts per day, if not more. Typically, I post something about my kids' sporting events, their many school functions or cooking success stories. I also regularly share articles from parenting blogs or kid-friendly recipes to try — mostly so I will remember to go back to them later.
Most of my posts get 20 to 30 likes or comments, but when one drew the attention of most of my friends, I knew I was on to something. I posted this: "My Life on Facebook vs. My Life in Reality"
On the left was a portrait of loving brothers chatting arm-in-arm on the way to school. The right side, or "reality" side, showed a picture of my boys fighting over a toy I was donating because it was no longer age appropriate and rarely played with. Though both scenarios are the "truth" in my household, the right side occurs with much more regularity in reality. But the left side more often appears in my Facebook feed.
"Thank you for telling the truth! We need more of this on Facebook," friends wrote. "This is so true!" said friends of friends. People seemed to appreciate the acknowledgment that reality is not as rosy or idyllic as Facebook suggests to us on a daily, or hourly, basis.
Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I see post after post of happy events, smiling children, soccer goals and Pinterest-inspired party favors. My posts were similar. In fact, my last three posts as of this writing were of school pictures with smiling kids, perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts, and a video clip of a 3-point shot my son made at his last basketball game.
We commonly post pictures of our perfect vacations and holiday get-togethers. Often the family is wearing complementary clothing and everyone, from oldest to youngest, is smiling and, miraculously, no one is blinking. It probably took 25 attempts to get the perfect shot. Why aren't the outtakes viewed as valuable? Remembering that your baby wouldn't face the right direction is kind of sweet. Such fleeting memories disappear so quickly on their own; why do we want to hasten the process?
Many people, including me, take to Facebook to post pictures of our recipe successes. Cheesecake brownies baked for teacher appreciation day, Pinterest-inspired Minion cupcakes for their child's birthday party, or a well-rounded meal of free fish, asparagus, and brown rice — all homemade, organic and gluten-free. These pictures are staged and then doctored with the most appetizing Instagram filter. (FWIW, I'm partial to Lark or Clarendon filters for food). What doesn't make it to the pages of Facebook as often are the pictures from the nights we served our kids microwaved chicken nuggets or (shh!) got them a Happy Meal on the way to practice.
As I started to think about this phenomenon, I do what psychologists do when they are interested in understanding behavior: examine the research. Studies found evidence that heavy Facebook use is associated with feelings of jealousy and depression possibly because people compare themselves to the "perfect" lives of the images put forward on Facebook. I can only hypothesize that the same goes for Instagram and other social media outlets.
For me, Facebook is a kind of baby book that I never had time to finish (and in some instances) start for my boys. Though I do present both aspects of my life, I realized that I tend to post more of the perfect poses. A healthier balance of both sides may be prescribed in the future because all of it is my life — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and I'd like to have an accurate memory of it.
Back in the days when we took pictures with film, we threw the reject pictures in a box but didn't delete them from our history. A picture that you would delete today is one that might be cherished in 20 years.
Perhaps we should all consider posting on Facebook in a manner that reflects our true selves. Not only will we have a more realistic documentation of our rich and full lives, authenticity is really the only way of truly connecting with others.
Terry Lee-Wilk is a neuropsychologist who lives in Columbia with her husband and three boys; her email is email@example.com.